Editorial — 25 January 2017

Is there a ray of hope for the long suffering, neglected former residents of Barclay?

Well no, probably not.

But, you may have heard rumblings from the north-east that the town of Hudson recently got its name back from their usurpers in Sioux Lookout after a few decades of cultural defiance to their signage.

I’m sure I’m making that sound a lot more dramatic than it really is, but you have to count these small victories.

Now good people of the former Barclay, I’ll admit to taking a certain amount of pleasure in toying with the tensions that have risen in nearly 20 years since the City of Dryden annexed your neighbouring township to the east. It is, after-all, the dream of every small town newspaperman, to witness if not instigate their very own pitchfork rebellion.

Barclay’s ongoing complaint to the City of Dryden is a valid one. The lakefront-rich extension to Dryden’s municipal boundary plays host to hundreds of over-assessed properties that have been given the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s (MPACs) Muskoka treatment — an assumption of value that doesn’t meet with the reality of local real estate which results in high property taxes with a lower level of service than homeowners enjoy inside the traditional limits of Dryden.

You can’t really blame Dryden City Council for consistently seeking a zero property-tax increase year over year when an already underserviced sector of their tax base tell them that their assessments are making their properties not only unaffordable, but unsellable.

It also might not be so difficult for Sandy Beach and Thunder Lake residents to swallow if there were not another lakefront enclave of comparable size and prominence sitting across the bay paying much more reasonable ‘unorganized’ tax rates.

A 2015 study by the Fraser Institute, (a sort of right-leaning think-tank) examined the after effects of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ ‘Common Sense Revolution’ — which included a wave of amalgamation across Ontario throughout the 1990s with an aim to reduce costs and government bureaucracy.

The study concluded that amalgamation led to no tangible financial benefit for municipalities in the 15 to 20 years since.

The study went on to say it was the short time frame in which municipalities were forced to consolidate which nullified the potential benefits. Local governments were forced to make hasty decisions over which services to consolidate; rushed contract negotiations caused wages to be harmonized upward; and rural and urban services were consolidated, creating the expectation of better service from residents.

The whole idea was supposed to lower people’s property taxes. Well that didn’t happen.

My theory, crackpot or otherwise, is that MPAC see lakefront property as a tool in their toolbox to rebalance the taxation load as large industrial and commercial sector interests continue to mount successful legal challenges to their assessments at the Assessment Review Board (ARB)

Can homeowners organize as a group to fund a legal challenge to exploit the apparent ease with which businesses and industry are re-negotiating their obligations? It seems like that’s how you actually get things done. — Chris Marchand

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MichaelChristianson

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